A Kingly Gift

When the servants brought in the roast meat, Alexander's officers sighed, grateful for food that at least looked passingly familiar. Persian accommodations were usually decent enough in the little wayside cities that hosted Alexander's troops, but as for the so-called "food" they had to face – well, there was always a battalion of men ready to charge back out, growling stomachs notwithstanding, if only for the extremely tiny chance to stumble across a boar. Whether it was a nondescript pile of mealy mush, a flamboyant gob of magenta gunk, or a pile of cold, slimy, bug-eyed dead things that were supposedly the "most exquisite delicacy my lords will ever taste in all the world!", the officers always found themselves yearning wistfully for a good, plain, old-fashioned Macedonian roast. Killed within the last hour, preferably, and turned just the right number of times on a good, plain spit over a good, plain fire.

And in this backwater little city at the end of a long, tiring trek through difficult terrain, without so much as a small skirmish against the locals to break the monotony (not to mention the chilling storm that broke as they paraded through the streets, soaking them all to the bone in moments) – here it was, the meal of their dreams!

Alexander grinned. "Hungry?"

With a cheer, they dug in. The servers had not even set down all the dishes yet. Even the sophist Anaxarchus, usually a dour and infinitely proper dinner guest, began the meal with gusto.

Alexander alone waited. His fingers tapped a restless rhythm on the table, but he smiled to see his friends so happy. Quite aware of the drop in morale during the march, he had made it a point to speak to their host about supper, and the latter was only too eager to comply. Alexander even had to talk him out of throwing a lavish banquet on the morrow, one that would require preparation to begin tonight. He knew what his men wanted, and it was not a sumptuous Persian banquet the next day when they could have something similar to roast boar right now.

However, roasts were not the only specialty he requested.

The servers placed two plates on Alexander's table. On one plate was a whole fish, the best in the platter, deftly scooped up and sliced before his very eyes, its smoky aroma tinged with a refreshing whiff of herbs. And on the other plate –

The translator stared at it in morbid fascination while their host, quite oblivious to his sudden pallor, told him what it was. With the edge taken off their ravenous hunger, the officers noticed the similar plates on their own tables. They either eyed the lumpy little piles with guarded hostility, or tried to ignore their existence altogether.

"They're . . ." the translator swallowed with difficulty, as if he had already shoveled a spoonful of the stuff in his mouth. "They're fish eggs."

Alexander looked at his translator with some concern. "Are you quite all right, Euphemius?" He patted the man's back. "Maybe Philip can take a look at you."

"No, I'm fine Sire!" Euphemius replied hastily despite a strong urge to retch. "Couldn't be better!" Everyone knew about Philip's medicines.

Alexander beamed. "You were saying?"

The host understood Alexander's expression. He bobbed his head and began to expound, his whole face lighting up in obvious rapture.

"Right." Euphemius resolutely stared at a knot in the wood of the table while he translated the host's words, thinking as little as possible about the topic itself. "Salted, fully mature fish eggs. They call it khagavar, or fish-egg bearer. The red ones are salmon khagavar infused with saffron and beets, and the golden ones are from trout. Despite their bright appearance they're quite ordinary compared to the rest, which are actually the best selection of khagavar you'll find anywhere in Persia. These eggs are from fish called stirred gin – I'm sorry, sturgeon, from the Hyrkanian Sea. The smallest eggs are from Sieve-rug – pardon, Sevruga sturgeon. Very rare, very expensive. The brown, green, and dark blue khagavar is from Ostrich – no, Ostra . . . Pardon me Sire, ossetra sturgeon. Even more expensive. And the light blue eggs in the middle are from a Bell-gut sturgeon. Of course, it's the rarest and most expensive of all."

The host whispered urgently in Euphemius' ear.

Euphemius sighed. "Beluga sturgeon. Sorry, Sire, it's Beluga."

"You're not concentrating very well today, Euphemius!" remarked Alexander.

"I beg pardon, Sire!"

Alexander dismissed it with an amiable wave.

The host spoke again. This time Euphemius concentrated.

"The Beluga khagavar came from a fish that was at least seventy-five years old."

The host continued, holding his arms out wide.

Eumphemius frowned in doubt, but translated faithfully: "The fish was two thousand and twenty-four pounds."

The host added a last rapid string of enthusiastic syllables.

"He assures you, Sire," Euphemius dryly concluded, "that this is the most exquisite delicacy your Majesty will ever taste in all the world!"

The officers groaned.

At Alexander's side, Anaxarchus was frowning too. "They're eggs," he mumbled disparagingly. Eggs were common things, not fit for royal tables – at least where he came from.

Alexander, on the other hand, was eager enough to make up for everyone else's reluctance. He scooped up some of the light blue khagavar and chewed it with the air of a connoisseur. The host's eyes widened. Apparently not bothered at all by the squicky texture, Alexander scooped up another little pile. Euphemius studiously examined the knot in the wood.

After Alexander's third mouthful, the host flung up his arms and started babbling, overwhelmed.

"What's wrong?" Alexander asked.

"He declares most fervently, Sire, that you really are the greatest Great King ever. Even Darius was known only to eat a little at a time, usually on a piece of toasted bread."

Alexander raised his eyebrows. Then he smiled. Painstakingly he picked up some of every type of khagavar, making a large heap on the spoon. With all the colors, it was quite pretty – or revolting, depending on one's opinion. By the time he built his khagavar mountain, everyone was staring in spite of themselves, even Euphemius.

"Cheers," Alexander said, and blithely wolfed it down.

The host prostrated himself, more blubbery than ever. Euphemius gagged. And the officers desperately turned back to their roasts, frantically concentrating their considerable strategic skills on the problem of getting rid of their fish eggs.

"I'm not feeling particularly hungry today, Craterus, why don't you have my gag – I mean, kagavar?"

"You practice wrestling so much, Leonnatus, I'm sure you need the wondrous kagvar more than I do."

"Ptolemy! You liked the food in Egypt, I'm sure you'd appreciate my portion of kavavar better than I could!"

"Here, Peucestas, have my share of kaviar, it'll help you learn their language better!"

Cleitus pounded the table with his wine cup. (It was empty – for the third time already.) "We're all being a bunch of silly cowards!"

They all stared at him. Eumenes wrinkled his nose. "You think we should eat this?"

Cleitus shook his head vigorously. "No! I'm saying that we should just speak our minds!" He raised his voice. "Alexander! Alexander, we don't want to eat anything that's cold or slimy, or gooey or runny, or oddly colored, or bug-eyed!"

Alexander stopped in the middle of spreading a thick layer of sickly green on a piece of bread. The hall grew very quiet.

Cleitus shifted. "Well, that's what they look like – bug eyes!" he declared defensively.

Alexander put down the bread. He looked almost injured. "You haven't even tasted it."

His companions exchanged nervous glances, then looked imploringly at him.

Alexander's fingers drummed once on the table. "Oh, very well," he muttered. "Go back to your boring old roasts. Anaxarchus, won't you at least try some?"

Anaxarchus declined, rigidly polite.

Alexander studied him for a few moments. Then he smiled brilliantly at the host and finished khagavaring his bread. He called a page over. "Here, see to it you choose a good portion of the khagavar" – he shot the host another smile – "and set it aside for Hephaestion, for when he returns. Some of every color, mind you!"

"A present of fish?" Anaxarchus said incredulously, voicing the thoughts of many of them. Fish, no matter how exalted in the Persians' eyes, was no boar. And Alexander was king.

The king glanced mildly at the sophist. "Fish eggs," he corrected. "Khagavar."

Anaxarchus said no more.

After that Alexander seemed quite content just to munch away on the goop-covered bread.

The officers sighed in relief to see everything blow over (though some of them felt rather sorry for Hephaestion, even those who knew that when it came to trying new things, he was almost as crazy as Alexander). After all, roast boar, or anything like it, was hard to come by. It should be savored without anybody in a bad temper, especially Alexander.

Not until the servants took away the gleaming, beady fish eggs were the officers able to relax completely. They downed the contents of their cups.

After all, who knew what sort of bizarre things the Persians enjoyed? If those were really eggs, maybe they would suddenly hatch into slimy little fish. Maybe they were indeed eyes, as Cleitus so very wisely suggested. Maybe they could still see, even removed from the bodies of . . . whatever they came from. Just the idea of swallowing that stuff . . . They called for more wine.

They had fought strange men before, and would fight strange monsters if they had to. But all in all, they did not fancy strange things going down their throats – especially when they could eat a good, plain roast instead.


An hour later, only Anaxarchus and Alexander remained. Anaxarchus was just sitting there. Alexander, quite oblivious to the statue-like sophist, was mulling over his wine and drumming his fingers louder than ever on the table.

Hephaestion was late.

Not that Alexander expected his friend at any specific time – after all, one could never schedule an end to a scouting mission. But he had assumed Hephaestion would be back early enough to dine with him and the other officers. That is, before the unexpected downpour.

Trust Hephaestion to accept the task, when all the others were clamoring to parade through the city and settle into their quarters. Just because of the spiteful rumors here and there – which they both knew to be false – Hephaestion thought he had to go and overcompensate all the time. Honestly, anybody with half a brain should understand how ridiculous the rumors were. Not to mention downright malicious.

Alexander glared balefully into his cup.

When Hephaestion returned he would probably be very hungry. Unfortunately all the roast was gone – Alexander's friends had good appetites, especially for roasts. But there was the fish. Hephaestion could grill it quite well himself, and he always considered fish a treat, no matter what outrageous cooking methods they encountered in foreign cities.

The host had mentioned fish in his description of the elaborate banquet. Alexander had asked him just to scale things down for tonight (very much down) and add roast boar. But he had not made it clear that he still wanted the fish; when he learned that his friend had plunged into the wilderness and was not expected until suppertime, he headed to the kitchens at the first free moment to make certain that fish was definitely on the menu.

While he was there he saw the odd little clumps that the Persians called khagavar. Always keen to try new things, he naturally ordered that too.

As luck would have it there was still plenty of khagavar left, but all the fish had disappeared, following the roasts – his officers had very good appetites, especially after long marches. So there was only a single fish left, the one that was first served to Alexander.

He looked at it despondently. It seemed rather small now, and the scent of herbs was gone.

All in all, with the cold, heavy rain, Hephaestion may very well not arrive until next morning. Alexander heaved a sigh.

The room was quite empty now, except for the sophist and Alexander. As Alexander's fingers tapped restlessly on, the others had left one by one, glancing back uneasily, or pretending not to notice his darkening mood, or (and this applied to most of them) just outright drunk.

Perdiccas was the last to leave. "The fish eyeballs were good, Alexander," he said sympathetically. "I'm sure Hephaestion will like them, too."

Alexander was about to correct him – they were fish eggs, khagavar – but he saw the glare that Perdiccas shot at Anaxarchus and decided just to let Perdiccas go.

At least Perdiccas had swallowed some of the stuff. Seleucus and Ptolemy had tried it too. Peucestas even seemed to take a liking to it – though he did not try it without bread, as Alexander had done.

The rest of them . . . well, considering what Cleitus said about eyeballs, Alexander thought he might as well be satisfied that wrinkled noses and inconsiderate behavior (thank goodness the host did not understand much Greek!) was all he got for his efforts to share kingly delicacies with his Companions.

Anaxarchus, however . . . For a sophist, he seemed awfully close-minded. Alexander remembered how the man had stared years ago when first introduced, astonished at what he saw as the deplorably sparse furnishings of Alexander's tent. Alexander knew, too, how the sophist sniffed when Alexander greeted their host that day, how disapprovingly he sat through the evening, how he usually did not even touch the food of foreign hosts – not out of principle, but sheer conceit.

Ugh. He was still here despite his scorn of all things foreign. What was the old sod staying around for, anyhow? If only Hephaestion –

Alexander leaped to his feet. "Hephaestion!"

His friend stood in the doorway.

He was bedraggled and sopping wet. His cloak was covered in mud; there was a streak of it on his forehead. He looked a little surprised, too, and not happily so; once again Alexander cursed the sophist's presence as he bounded forward and seized Hephaestion's hand to pull him to a seat.

Hephaestion resisted. "Alexander, I'm dripping mud all over the place. I just came to tell you we scouted three miles out before the rain caught us, so we know that much of our route."

"Very good, very good."

"However, considering the rain –" Hephaestion glanced down ruefully. "I don't think you should move on tomorrow."

"Move on?" Alexander absently repeated, still pulling his friend toward the couches.

"You said just this morning you wanted to get to the next major city in ten days. According to our preliminary maps, you'd have to march non-stop. Still I thought it might be possible, but with this weather . . . " Hephaestion looked almost apologetic, but he spoke firmly. "We should wait here until the storm is over."

Alexander stared. Was it not the spite of others that drove Hephaestion out there this time, but his own haste? Had Hephaestion gone scouting just to make Alexander's march go a little faster?

No, no – Alexander knew that Hephaestion did many things for a mesh of reasons, often more difficult to sort out and explain than a siege tower design, with a multitude of factors involved. Still –

At Alexander's silence, Hephaestion started reaching for something in the pack he wore under his cloak. "I do have the possible routes marked out on the maps – do you want to see them?"

Alexander shook his head impatiently. "We'll look at the maps later, Hephaestion. Have you had supper?"

Hephaestion gave him a wry grin.

"Well, come on then!" cried Alexander.

Hephaestion chuckled quietly. "But all I want is a bath –"

Alexander stopped tugging at his friend.

Hephaestion's hair was plastered to his head, rainwater was still dripping into his eyes, and drenched, mud-caked robes certainly could not be comfortable, not to mention wet armor. His body was tense with cold, and he seemed ready to drop off any moment.

In Alexander's mind the fish on the table shrank to monstrously insignificant proportions.

"Very well," he murmured. "I suppose you haven't been shown your quarters yet?"

"No, a servant's waiting outside to show me the way."

Alexander pressed Hephaestion's hand. "Have them make the bath good and warm!" he urged softly, and relinquished his grip.

Hephaestion gazed searchingly into Alexander's eyes.

"Alexander?" His voice was gentle. "Are you all right?"

Chuckling, Alexander brushed some mud off Hephaestion's shoulder though it hardly made a visible difference. "You're asking me?"

Hephaestion looked skeptical, but when Alexander smiled, he smiled back. Then he departed.


Thoroughly determined to mope, Alexander turned back to the table and the fish of tragically tiny proportions. He almost exclaimed in surprise. Once again, he had forgotten Anaxarchus' presence.

The sophist was frowning.

"What are you so miserable about?" Alexander demanded crossly, flopping back down on his couch.

Anaxarchus looked up at him.

"Go on, tell me!"

"You're the king . . ." muttered Anaxarchus.

"Thank you so much," Alexander groused. "I would never have known it if I didn't have a sophist to enlighten me."

Anaxarchus did not reply.

Alexander ignored him and stared at the fish for a long time. It was too late to order the kitchen to cook another; Hephaestion would want to sleep soon.

Well, at least Alexander could have the fish reheated. And with the colorful khagavar, it could look somewhat presentable. After all, Hephaestion had missed supper.

Come to think of it, since the storm would keep them here anyway – why not have that banquet tomorrow? Then Hephaestion could have freshly cooked fish, his officers could have more of their tired old roasts, and Alexander could have more khagavar. (The first few bites were rather salty, but once he tried it on the bread, he had grown to like it more and more.)

Tonight, though, Hephaestion would have to settle for reheated fish.

Alexander called for a servant to take the fish and gave the man extremely detailed instructions. To his credit, when Alexander asked him to repeat them, the servant was able to remember half, and after Alexander said it all over again, he had it well-memorized.

"What are you doing?" Anaxarchus asked after the servant left.

"I'm sending fish to Hephaestion," Alexander replied simply, once again not really aware of Anaxarchus. He was busy thinking of details for the banquet. He would have to find the host and, if necessary, wake him up – he did say that the banquet required overnight preparation, and Alexander wanted everything to be perfect tomorrow –

Anaxarchus suddenly started to life.

"You're sending fish!" he cried.

Alexander looked up blankly. "So?"

"That's just it! You're the king, the Great King, you're even said to be son of Zeus-Ammon! How can you go tramping about like a common soldier and have eggs at your table when you should be served roast boar every day! How can you send fish as a present, when you've conquered so many cities and satrapies? How can you allow one of your officers to come in here tracking mud all over the place!"

At that, Alexander's eyes flashed, but he kept his voice calm. "So, Anaxarchus, you think that just because I'm a conqueror I should have the heads of my enemies for my supper entrees?"

"That's not what I meant! I meant – oh, I don't know! You speak of labors, like those of your ancestor Herakles. You're undergoing your own labors. Very well, put yourself through whatever trials you want. But Zeus knows you drag a lot of other people with you. No one else would ever face an army four or five times his own, but you wanted to, so your army followed you!" He managed to calm down somewhat, but he could not suppress his sarcasm as he added, "What a noble gift for those who follow you so faithfully in your labors – a present of fish!"

Alexander did not reply. Apparently this outburst had been a long time coming, since the sophist was citing the battle odds of Gaugamela.

Anaxarchus was now a little nervous, as well as resentful. Alexander was famed for his kindness to intellectuals, but he had a frightful temper too. "Alexander, I –"

"Say no more," Alexander said. He grinned flippantly and stood up. "I will give whatever presents I deem suitable. As for you – if it's a banquet you want, you just wait and see!"

He moved toward the door. When Anaxarchus doggedly followed, Alexander turned, determined to rid himself of the man. "There there," he said, trying to look as careless as possible, "I'm not angry."

The sophist bit his lip.

Alexander rolled his eyes. "It's late; we should all get some sleep."

"Alexander –"

Alexander strode purposefully down the hall. "There'll be a magnificent feast tomorrow, befitting a Great King! Make sure you attend every minute of it!" he called back. "We'll see what you think of my presents then!"


The host was ecstatic when Alexander conveyed his wish to go ahead with the feast. It only took two basic Persian words: "banquet" and "tomorrow." Alexander had to smile at the lengths some of these Persian governors would go to in order to impress their King.

He followed as the host rushed to notify the chefs. Alexander could say a few other things quite well in their language, including "Thank you." The kitchen staff was a little bleary-eyed at first, but his gratitude startled them awake, and they even seemed cheerful as they started preparations.

Among the staff were some of his own servants, including the one to whom Alexander had entrusted Hephaestion's fish. Alexander pulled him aside.

"Well?"

"Well, Sire, he seemed to like it."

Alexander suddenly felt anxious. "He wasn't already resting when you got there, was he?"

The servant paused. "Actually, Sire, he was working on something –"

"Working!" Alexander exclaimed. "On what?"

"It was a stack of parchments, Sire. I didn't get a close look. They didn't look like letters . . . "

"Never mind," Alexander muttered. "Go on."

"Well, when I said it was something you saved for him from supper, he set the parchments aside. I put the tray down and explained that the khagavar was fish eggs, just as you instructed."

"And then?"

"He just looked at the khagavar for a few moments." The servant hesitated, fidgeting. "And then . . . he laughed."

To the servant's astonishment, Alexander grinned. "Did he say anything?"

"I asked him if anything was the matter, Sire, and he replied that he guessed the other officers had strong opinions about the khagavar." Encouraged by Alexander's widening grin, the servant continued, "He also said that Cleitus had probably compared it to tadpoles or bugs or eyeballs, or something equally repulsive."

Alexander laughed outright.

"Anyhow, Sire, when I took my leave he was starting on the fish."

"Very good!" Alexander exclaimed, still laughing as he left the kitchens. Satisfied that everything was underway for the feast, he strolled back toward the sleeping quarters.

Considering how Hephaestion looked earlier, he was probably deep asleep by now. Still, Alexander did not feel weary yet, especially with so many little details for tomorrow running through his head, so he might as well make sure Hephaestion had a comfortable room. And if Hephaestion, by any chance, was still awake, Alexander was going to specifically order him to stay around tomorrow, just in case he took it into his head to schlep off on another mission before the crack of dawn or anything similarly hardheaded. Hephaestion had missed one supper of fish; Alexander would see to it that he did not miss the second.

The guard at the door came smartly to attention. Alexander gestured that they should speak quietly. "Is he asleep?"

"Yes, Sire."

"Did he order you to wake him early tomorrow?"

"He said not to wake him unless the palace is burning down or the gods themselves descend from Olympus."

Alexander smiled. "What about me?" he jested.

"You, Sire . . .!"

Alexander raised his eyebrows. "Yes?"

"Well . . . we all take it as something of a standing order – though he's never said anything to the point, to be sure." The guard ventured a smile and reached for the door. "I'll tell him right away, Sire –"

"That won't be necessary," Alexander said, reaching for the door himself. "You're doing a fine job; just carry on."


In the outer chamber there were still a few candles lit. Alexander took up one of them and tiptoed silently forth.

He peered around the bedroom and spied a tray on a long table. Moving to it, he saw that the plates on the tray still held some of the fruits and bread that were familiar to all his men. But the fish was gone, in spite of its dreadfully pathetic proportions.

There was kaghavar left, too – but Alexander could see that Hephaestion had tried a little of each kind. He would have to tell him about spreading it on bread, so Hephaestion could taste it as it was meant to be. Alexander imagined what his friend might say when he learned that the tiny things came from a fish over two thousand pounds. He stifled a chuckle.

By the tray there were parchments; they reminded Alexander of the servant's words. Was this what Hephaestion had been working on? Alexander glanced over at his friend. Hephaestion showed no sign of waking, so Alexander returned his attention to the parchments – a little crinkled on the edges, but laid out neatly side by side.

They were maps of the area. The original drawings were done when they still had only scant information about this region, but as Alexander bent closer he could see new markings. Waterways, forests, plains – even the different heights of terrain. One map also showed a solid line outlining the path taken on today's scouting mission, as well as several dotted lines branching from its end to indicate possible continuations. Along the solid line were several loops, too, labeled "unstable ground due to rain."

So that was where all the mud came from.

At the end of the table, Alexander noticed a map that was especially crowded with writing. It showed the area that the army had just passed through, as well as the terrain covered in today's mission. He examined it closely and smiled, intimately familiar with Hephaestion's shorthand, easily able to comprehend the script that often baffled others.

On this map it was even more of a language that only Alexander would understand, liberally scattered with symbols that the two of them had first developed together long ago, when Aristotle's assignments sent them wandering in the hills of Mieza.

It had been a while since Hephaestion drew him such a map. As Hephaestion's duties increased, he had less and less time to devote to anything unrelated to the army, and certainly none of the other officers could find any use for these maps that depicted where they saw this odd plant or that strange animal.

Hephaestion always gave such maps to Alexander together with the rest, joking that they might provide him a few interesting moments in boring, unending councils. (And they did; some of the things he wrote in that special script made it nearly impossible for Alexander to stay properly serious in front of his generals.) Beyond that, however, Hephaestion did not consider the maps anything special.

But Alexander kept them separately, safe with his books. Someday he would have them bound into a book, too.

Alexander ran his fingertips gently across this newest map, tracing a river as it wound its way through clusters of tall trees and crashed downward in mighty waterfalls.

The parchment was still moist, but the ink remained quite legible. No simple pack material would have protected the maps so well from the downpour. Hephaestion must have wrapped them several times over before the rain got a chance to damage them, and then stowed them away in that pack under his cloak.

With a silent sigh, Alexander set the candle on the table and turned toward the bed.

He just stood there for a while, gazing thoughtfully at his friend. The candle burned steadily, casting a warm glow on Hephaestion's fine features. He seemed relaxed now, the earlier stiffness gone from his frame, the careless drape of the blanket showing that the bath had driven away the cold. His dark hair, still a little damp, glinted in the candlelight – the deep, rich color of the very heart of a flame. His breathing was steady, rhythmic.

Alexander found himself blinking heavy eyes. He felt warm and drowsily comfortable.

Slowly, gently, he smoothed the dark curls back, and pressed his lips lightly to Hephaestion's brow.

Hephaestion did not wake – Alexander had been careful not to disturb him. But he drew in a deep breath. And in his sleep, he smiled.


There was just one more thing to do. Regardless of orders not to be woken, Hephaestion could be very illogical sometimes, so just to be sure he knew –

Luckily there was a stack of blank parchment nearby. Alexander took a sheet and returned to the outer room to write. Just like when they were apart on campaign, he found it a little difficult to begin, but soon the words flowed easily.

Dearest Hephaestion,

The maps are, as always, a treasure. Much better than any of the jewels or silks that we receive so often as tribute, and not the least because they are the result of your labor, the work of your hand. I know that you know it, but I'll say it again: You have my wholehearted thanks.

(Already I can imagine you as you're reading this: you're smiling, thinking that I'm taking everything too seriously again, and maybe wondering if I've had too much wine. Well, let me tell you, the Companions together must have drunk ten barrels! And yes, as you guessed, Cleitus compared the khagavar to eyeballs. Bug eyeballs, to be exact.)

But back to the point – may it please you next time to consider that I might have a special gift for you, too, once in a while. And not of gold or jewels, either, or anything else a King may give – but like your maps are (at least in my eyes, if not in yours): a gift from a friend to a friend, crafted and bestowed in true understanding.

Per your advice, we will stay in this little city until the storm lets up (which won't be soon – I think Father Zeus is coming with his thunderbolts), so there shouldn't be any scouting missions for a few days. I realize traipsing off into the wilds at a moment's notice is necessary sometimes, but so is fine dining, don't you think? In short, there will be a banquet today, where you can get some proper fish – and taste the khagavar as it is meant to be enjoyed. I've taken quite a liking to it; I hope you will too.

So, I trust you will find no pretext to go gallivanting off into 'unstable grounds' again. Which reminds me, in addition to the fish, now I must see to it that you get a new cloak.

- Alexander

P.S. If that dry old bone Anaxarchus says anything to you about dripping mud on the floor, tell him I'll make him eat nothing but fish for a year – the pickled kind. Or better yet, fish eyeballs. Aristotle said that eating fish might increase a man's powers of thought; maybe that will improve Anarxarchus' intelligence to the level of a two-year-old. Or a fish.

P.P.S. They say the light-blue eggs are from a fish that was over two thousand pounds. What do you think of that?

Hephaestion would bring the other maps to their next council. Alexander cautiously gathered up the one that was meant just for him and tucked it safely under his arm. In its place, he left his note.

Finally, he was ready to go to sleep too.

And tomorrow – time to party!

End

All comments and criticisms will be savored like roast boar and Beluga-sturgeon caviar!

last revised 23 May 2006